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Jefferson City to vote on public safety sales tax

  

Jefferson City voters will decide the fate of a proposed sales tax touted as a measure to bolster the city’s public safety departments in Tuesday’s special election.

The proposal would see a new .25 percent tax to go to salaries for the city’s police officers and fire department. If approved, the tax is expected to bring in around $2.8 million to be distributed between the departments. 

James Noah, president of the Jefferson City Firefighters Local 671, said the increase would boost recruitment numbers and safety for the capital city. 

“This would allow us to make Jefferson City a safer community to travel through and live in,” Noah told The Missouri Times. “With this being a sales tax, people traveling through the area and living in the outlying area will be part of that support system and help ensure we can keep and support public safety officers here locally.”

Both departments reported a 24 percent retention rate last year, according to JC Citizens for Public Safety, a joint effort between the fire and police department encouraging citizens to approve the measure. Jefferson City is the only community of its size in Missouri without a designated public safety tax, the group said. 

The average salary for a Jefferson City Police Department (JCPD) officer ranges from $40,000-$61,000 while Jefferson City firefighters average between $31,000-$46,000. Both averages are below salaries for similarly sized departments in the area, the coalition said. 

Funds would also go toward equipment for police officers, including body cameras and servers. JCPD is one of the only forces of its size in Missouri not to have body cameras for its officers, according to the group. 

While Noah said the fire department is adequately equipped at the moment, he speculated the additional funds would help supply recruits the department hopes to see with the potential salary increase. 

“Both entities are looking at trying to drive forward with a progressive salary table based on years of service and experience and looking to the future to make sure we don’t lose these other municipalities,” he said. “We don’t have strong equipment needs right now, but in terms of future department expansion and staffing levels one thing we would like to see is that salary adjustment.”

The measure has also received the endorsement of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce for its projected impact on families moving to the area, with the president and CEO, Gary Plummer, calling public safety “a big factor in that decision process.”

“We believe public safety is second only to education when it comes to economic growth,” Plummer told The Missouri Times. “Looking at some of the crime statistics and trends in Jefferson City and across the state, we thought it was time for the citizens of Jefferson City to come together and try to better support our public safety capability.”

While Plummer said there hadn’t been organized pushback or concerns from business leaders, some members of the community had questioned the lack of a sunset on the tax. While most sales taxes include a sunset provision allowing them to be evaluated down the line, the use of this tax for personnel and salaries is more permanent. 

The tax would take effect in April 2022 if passed by voters. Jefferson City’s sales tax now sits at 7.7 percent.

Proposition 2 is the only issue that will appear on Cole County ballots Tuesday. Only Jefferson City residents may vote on the measure.